Totnes

Trying to help this pioneering Transition Town reverse an ETO (experimental traffic order) which has split High St/Fore St into opposite one-ways, resulting in a decline in commercial activity in the town, and greater congestion on the perimeter route. See Totnes Times and Reopen Totnes.

We succeeded in prompting a deferral of the decision to spend £500,000 on a traffic signal upgrade at the Redworth junction. But the Committee deciding the ETO and the fate of Totnes (consisting largely of out-of-town councillors) overruled the wishes of the community, at least for the moment.

The Case against the ETO, 23 August 2013

Different parts of the Totnes road network are interdependent, so this Note discusses the Fore St/ High St ETO in relation to traffic control on the perimeter route, specifically the Redworth Junction.

The ETO was initiated on the back of “accidents” which cannot be put down to one-way traffic flow in Fore St/High St. The ETO cannot prevent similar events in the future. The “accidents” which are used to justify the ETO are questionable because they were compiled in the context of priority (“Get out of my way!”) as distinct from equality (“After you”).  I put accidents in inverted commas because most accidents are not accidents. They are events contrived by the rules and design of the road.

The ETO will not reduce accidents by reducing traffic, because less traffic can mean higher speeds. A before-and-after survey was not considered necessary, so road safety was not seen as an issue. Before the ETO, as the report states, average speeds were 12mph. Speed is therefore no reason to justify the ETO. Ironically, by sending traffic down instead of up Fore St, it is increasing speeds. Of course the authentic way to achieve appropriate speed is to design for equality and context, not enforce it on roads designed for priority (inequality) and danger.

The main aim of the ETO was to stop the High St being used as a through route. But this is best achieved by dealing with the linked problem of congestion on the corridor. That route has suffered a serious increase in congestion since the ETO. Journey times have mushroomed.

Arguably, “rat-running” is a misnomer. Since the ETO, many businesses have seen a drastic drop in trade, documented by the Chamber. Rowcroft donations are down. At the time of writing, 31 jobs have been lost. Traditionally, Totnes, with its treasure trove of indie shops, has bucked recessions. Not this time. While the 2013 national trend is up, trade in Totnes is down. This is no coincidence, and is not due to the weather. It is due to impaired access caused by the ETO. Also affected: access to medical services, delays to  emergency service personnel and the Community bus service. Did DCC consider these consequences? Now they know the consequences, are they going to rescind the ETO?

Omissions in the Redworth and ETO consultations mean the tabled options are incomplete. Treating them separately in effect invalidates both. At the time of writing this, the Redworth decision has been postponed, as we requested, but the ETO decision has been fudged.

The High St and corridors cannot be seen in isolation. Our approach deals with both. We request time/funds for drawing up a viable plan for Redworth, starting with a lights-off trial to demonstrate that self-control is safer and more efficient than signal control.

Ashford, Poynton and Portishead show that a simplified approach to traffic management is workable in congested locations. Arguably, under the 2004 Traffic Management Act, DCC is in breach of its duty to explore all options for improving road safety and congestion. By omission, the case for the ETO amounts to a misrepresentation, raising doubts about the quality of the consultation. By failing to see the big picture and pursuing standard “solutions”, DCC is justifying the unjustifiable.

Instead of implementing the Hamilton-Baillie report, DCC reverted to an ETO shown in 1975 not to enhance life or trade. Circumstances have changed, but the 2013 version is a sledgehammer. The dual nut of gentler traffic in the centre and dire congestion outside town will never be cracked with piecemeal regulation that tinkers with the symptoms of our problems on the road and continually fails to treat the cause, viz. priority aka inequality.

Transport planners may baulk at anything vaguely experimental, and they might need training in the full toolkit of options. But ignorance is no excuse. In Manual for Streets 2, the DfT itself recommends simplified streetscapes. In any public consultation worthy of the name, paid traffic officers should make people aware of these progressive alternatives.

On 8 July, in an attempt to lobby the traffic officer responsible, I learned that she had not even seen the video of the groundbreaking scheme in Poynton. Imagine if a medic remained ignorant of keyhole surgery and continued to cut people open, risking lifelong injury. Public “servants” should keep abreast of developments, indeed they should be at the forefront, pioneering beneficial change. But too many persist in ploughing outdated furrows and prescribing medicine that is bad for us. That said, we would be happy to work collaboratively with officers. There are no liability issues, and there is no legal requirement for priority or signal control. With simple associated measures, we could bag over the lights and set up a lights-off trial in a matter of weeks.

Interim measures to enhance Fore St include installing planters and using road surface stencil art. We could do this within the £30,000 it would cost to extend the ETO.

Totnes United (the proposed name for an alliance of groups) is capable of ‘joined-up thinking’. Not only is the absence of such thinking conspicuous in the HATOC report: in January 2009, Matthew Scriven of Devon Highways asked me not to approach Totnes. As a result, progress has been delayed by 4½ years, during which time the town has suffered intolerable congestion and added emissions. Scriven has since moved to Surrey CC, but he made the request with the knowledge of colleagues.

Bearing in mind the tight timescales – discovering at the eleventh hour that a decision about an expensive traffic signal upgrade at Redworth Jct was imminent; seeing that jams at Redworth discourage traffic from using it; given that ideas proven to work at more complex intersections, such as Poynton, were not even tabled – DCC’s approach suggests the ETO was introduced prematurely.

New signals at Redworth would be a regressive step. It would buttress a publicly-funded command and control system which is part of the problem, not the solution.

Opening the HATOC meeting on 12 July 2013, Robert Croad, Chair, announced that he was “minded to continue the ETO”, thus revealing bias and effectively invalidating the final vote. Tellingly, at the 2012 hearing, Croad’s casting vote carried the motion to introduce the ETO, and on 12 July, his vote carried the motion to extend it. During much of the hearing, Croad was not listening. During the impassioned statement from Esther Fleurette, Croad was conferring with a colleague on the bench. He interrupted and cut off Paul Wesley in full flow, and Martin Cassini when he raised the subject of Redworth Junction. “Oh, we don’t want to hear about Redworth Junction,” said Croad, patronisingly.

HATOC was further exposed as a kangaroo court following an unsubstantiated claim by Jonathan Hawkins that shared space was being abandoned in an unnamed location. An attempt by Cassini to challenge it was dismissed. Subsequent research by Alan Gorman revealed the location to be Blackpool and the claim to be false. Yet it appeared to be accepted by the Committee as fact.

The community of Totnes is no longer prepared to accept AUTOcracy. In matters of such significance to the town’s well-being and prosperity, it demands DEMOcracy. We ask that without further delay, the Committee rethink the High St ETO, just as the Cabinet decided on 10 July to rethink Redworth. With Equality Streets we have a safe, civilised, sustainable solution which reflects the spirit of the town. It can be achieved within the budget already earmarked for Redworth and the ETO.

Note: A local campaigner was shocked by the reason the DfT gave for not getting involved: “LTAs (local traffic authorities) have autonomy unless guilty of gross negligence.” Arguably, standard traffic control is negligent, so perhaps the real shocker is that the LTA continues to impose a defective traffic design and control system on an unsuspecting public, despite evidence that there is a better way.